Swan was born as one of 7 surviving children in 1871 in the village of Magletorp in Trolle- Ljungby in the province of Skåne (Scania) in southern Sweden as the son of Nils Johnson 1820-1881 and Sissa Johnsdotter 1830-1891.
After the the death of their father, Nels two oldest sisters Elna and Karna emigrated to the USA in 1882. after their mothers death Sven and his older brother Jöns and their youngest sister Johanna emigrated in march 1892. Sven and Jöns settled in Chicago.
In Chicago Jöns and Sven Nilsson quickly became John and Swan Nelson . Life apparently went well for the two brothers Swan quickly learned a bit of english and manged to accuire a little tobacco store. He also took part in the social life of the Swedish-Americans in the city. In the summer of 1893 he became one of the charter members of the lodge Angantyr of The Independent order of Vikings. In the summer and fall of 1893 Chicago also hosted The Worlds Columbian Exposition .with visitors from allover the USA and the world visiting Chicago.
The city was also plagued by crime and violence and political corruption and shortly before the Exposition closed Chicago mayor Carter Harrison was murdered .
|"The White city" The Worlds comumbian Exibition in Chicago 1893|
Swan had all reasons to be content with his life in Chicago and to look forward to a bright futute unfortunate his life was cut short all too soon. On Christmas evening Swan went to a small Christmas party held by his neigbours Otto and Josephine Bjorkman . he and the bjorkman family and a few other friends celebrated Christmas Eve the Swedish way with some food and drink.
(Aproximate place where the shooting took place (the street numbers where changed in 1909)
About 2.30 AM early on Christmas morning Swan left the Bjorkmans home. Despite being early in the mornng he decided to go to the Northelfer´s saloon nearby. Outside the saloon he met two Irish-american policemen Michael J Healy and Thomas J Moran who had had some drinks in another saloon earlier in the evening.
They insisted that Swan should buy them some drinks in the saloon. The three men went inside where there where a few sleepy german-american customers and the bartender .The bartender gave the policemen cigars and Swan bought them each a drink. but when they insisted he should buy them more he refused.
They then beat him with a club. and then cleared the saloon. Outside the Saloon the quarell continued. They arrested Swan Nelson and while Mooran went to call the police-wagon Healy held him. Swan then brooke lose and ran towards his home .The two policemen fired 5 shoots (in the air) they later said.
Swan Nelson was hit in the back. Mrs.Bjorkman heard the shot and opened the door. Mooran entered and said he had fired at a robber and demanded more whiskey !.Swan Nelson had managed to crawl to his house where mrs Bjorkman found him dying.
"Here is my watch,mrs Bjorkman" he said " I am shoot and will die !. the two policemen returned.Healy treatened to shot mrs Bjorkman if she left the dying man , he also hit her in the face she later testified. Swan Nelson was dragged to the sidewalk where he was heard saying "I die,I die ,I have done no wrong,Have I no friends here? help-I am dying." The police-wagon arrived and took him to the hospital where he died later on Christmas day .